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In re Commitment of Langford

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 19, 2019

IN RE COMMITMENT OF MARK EDWARD LANGFORD, Appellant

          On Appeal from the 149th District Court Brazoria County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 94640-CV

          Panel consists of Justices Lloyd, Goodman, and Landau.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RUSSELL LLOYD, JUSTICE

         The State filed a civil petition to commit appellant Mark Edward Langford for involuntary treatment and supervision as a sexually violent predator.[1] After the jury found that Langford was a sexually violent predator, the trial court rendered a final judgment and an order of civil commitment. Langford raises two issues on appeal challenging the admission of the contents of a letter sent to the parole board by someone claiming to be one of his victims. In two issues, Langford argues that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State's expert to testify about the contents of the letter because the information was hearsay and its probative value was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court's order of civil commitment.

         Background

         In September 1994, a jury found Langford guilty of aggravated sexual assault of five-year-old Lori Black[2] in Cause # 24, 448 in Brazoria County. Langford subsequently pleaded guilty to Aggravated Sexual Assault of Child; Criminal Episode in Cause # 28, 664 in Brazoria County. This indictment alleged that Langford committed two offenses against eleven-year old Cindy Smith in the same criminal episode. Langford also pleaded guilty to Aggravated Sexual Assault of Child; Criminal Episode in # 25, 822 in Brazoria County. This indictment alleged that Langford committed three offenses against seven-year old Ginny Smith, and one offense against her six-year old sister, Tammy Smith, all in the same criminal episode. All these sexual assaults occurred in 1991-1992. Langford's punishment was assessed at thirty-three years' incarceration for all seven counts, with the sentences to run concurrently. Assuming he is not paroled, Langford will be released from prison in 2027.

         In December 2017, the State petitioned to have Langford declared a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Act, alleging that he was a repeat sexually violent offender who suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. See Tex. Health & Safety Code § 841.003(a). Langford was evaluated by the State's expert, Dr. Sheri Gaines, who concluded that Langford met the statutory requirement of behavioral abnormality. The State's petition was tried to a jury.

         Langford filed a motion in limine asking the court to prevent the State from mentioning or eliciting testimony about a letter that one of Langford's victims had written to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, namely, a June 2007 letter from Tammy asking the board to deny Langford's request for parole.

         During a pre-trial hearing on the motion, Langford's counsel argued that the letter was not reliable and was unfairly prejudicial, in part, because it contained additional details about Tammy's assault, including a new allegation that Langford had threatened to harm her if she reported the abuse. Langford's counsel also asserted that Dr. Gaines had relied upon the letter when formulating her opinion that Langford suffers from a behavioral abnormality and she requested a hearing pursuant to Texas Rule of Evidence 705(b) in order to question Dr. Gaines about the letter and Tammy's claim that Langford had threatened her prior to the admission of any testimony on the subject.[3]

         The trial court granted the request. At the conclusion of the Rule 705(b) hearing, the trial court ruled the letter was admissible because Dr. Gaines relied upon the letter when formulating her opinion.

         Dr. Gaines, a board-certified psychiatrist, testified that she evaluated Langford for a behavioral abnormality, and that based on her education, training, experience, and the methodology that she employed in this case, it is her expert opinion that Langford suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.

         Dr. Gaines explained that when she evaluates someone for a behavioral abnormality, she reviews a broad array of records on that individual, including the results of psychological tests administered to the offender by previous evaluators, prison records, indictments, police reports, victims' statements, the offender's statements, and depositions in the case. She also performs a face-to-face interview of the offender. Dr. Gaines explained that this is the same methodology relied upon by other experts in her field when performing behavioral abnormality evaluations. Tammy's letter to the parole board is just one of over 2, 200 pages of records that Dr. Gaines reviewed as part of her evaluation.

         Dr. Gaines testified that Langford was convicted of seven sexual offenses against four prepubescent girls, Lori, Cindy, Ginny, and Tammy. All of the assaults occurred between March 1991 and June 1992. Dr. Gaines testified that she relied on Langford's convictions and the facts underlying the convictions when formulating her opinion that Langford suffers from a behavioral abnormality. According to Dr. Gaines, the facts or the details surrounding Langford's sexual offenses are important for her analysis because they help her to identify risk factors. Risk factors are things that have been identified by the literature and group statistics that increase a person's risk of reoffending sexually.

         Dr. Gaines testified that sexual deviancy[4] is a major risk factor for reoffending sexually and it was the most significant risk factor that she identified in Langford's case. Specifically, Dr. Gaines testified that she diagnosed Langford as having pedophilic disorder, exclusive type, because he is sexually attracted to prepubescent girls, and her opinion that Langford suffers from a behavioral abnormality is based in large part on Langford's sexual deviance.

         When asked what evidence she found of sexual deviance with respect to Tammy's sexual assault, Dr. Gaines testified that Langford has "one conviction with the genital-to-genital contact against [Tammy]. There are some other statements about some verbal threats that he made towards [Tammy] and some of those other details about the dirty dancing and the involvement of [Tammy's and Ginny's] father and ejaculating and high-fiving over the victim's body." According to Dr. Gaines, those details are useful for purposes of her assessment because they help to illustrate Langford's sexual deviancy.

         Dr. Gaines further testified that another factor that increases a person's risk of reoffending sexually is making threats against his victims. She identified this risk factor for Langford from Tammy's letter. Dr. Gaines acknowledged that this was the first time that Tammy or any of Langford's other victims had claimed that Langford had threatened them, and she did not recall there being any other indication in the record that Langford had threatened his victims. In addition to Langford's sexual deviancy and the threats against Tammy, Dr. Gaines identified other risk factors in this case, including the fact that Langford claimed that five-year old Lori was the aggressor and he blamed her for the assault, he has poor insight into his offenses, he has a pattern of denying or minimizing the ...


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